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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Milford Graves with Arthur Doyle & Hugh Glover – Children of the Forest (Black Editions Archive, 2023)

 By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

What someone shouldn’t do, when writing about music, maybe the number one rule, I don’t know, is to present your personal taste as something with a subjective value and truth. But there are those rare moments (that must be rare and not happening twice a month) when the music overwhelms you. Children of the Forest is most definitely one of those moments.

To cut a long story short, as you are aware of master percussionist’s (Milford Graves) story by now, is that he and Arthur Doyle share a common past. Both of them were considered too radical and too free from the musical establishment back in the day. They were given shit about it. Its funny how round the mid 1970’s Graves was already a master of his craft and not just a good drummer, an important figure in New York’s mythologized loft scene and still, he was so under-recorded. The same can be said about sax and flute player Doyle.

There are so many different small things that can be said about this release. Musical but non-musical as well. The choice of the title, Children of The Forest, a reference maybe of the urban jungle they were struggling to live in as black artists not wanting to be mainstream. The amazing, ecstatic photo of the trio by Val Wilmer –such a telling document about what happens on these recordings. The announcements, by Graves himself, of each different date (three of them, all early 1976 from January up to March) that add to the feeling of urgency about this trio and its music.

Talking about this trio: Both professor Graves (as Hugh Glover, the only one still with us, still mentions him) and Arthur Doyle have passed away, but as a trio, they made, during the same period, the seminal Bäbi, the most important free jazz statement in the post-Ayler era of jazz. Needless to say that Children of the Forest is and will be the archival release of the year, maybe the most important archival release of some time now. Many kudos must go to the people that managed to present this music to us, like Peter Kolovos and Michael Ehlers and all the people who worked on this.

Even though I consider Doyle an unsung hero of free thinking music and Glover is an original powerhouse on the sax, one cannot but comment on the commanding presence of Grave’s playing. With my limited technical knowledge and not an audio complement of the recordings around, I feel that Graves uses every little bit of percussion on the set that is visible by the album’s cover. He is a polyrhythmic octopus, channeling aggression and wisdom, ready to follow any sax blowout, bewildered by the importance of the music they are making.

Of course Children of The Forest is not Milford Graves with some sidemen. One of the factor’s that drive me enthusiastic about this music, is that all three of them are so aware of the traditions behind them and, at the same time, so willingly overpass them in order to create something new. Doyle’s tenor sax is an ecstatic force of nature, an equivalent of the trance musics of Africa. Glover, apart from the tenor saxophone, is heard on the klaxon a rather cheap and not popular on jazz recordings instrument. He also plays the vaccine, a one-note trumpet with origins from Haiti. The message is really clear I believe: make your own music out of limited resources, learn your history, and play something new. That’s exactly what those sessions on Children of the Forest offer us.

Graves incorporates several African and Cuban techniques in his playing. His drumming is both playful and flexible but also so focused and energetic. He has to be, as Doyle could fill any space with his own playing, his passion resembling the playing of another great, Albert Ayler.

Children of the Forest, this double vinyl release, renews our interest in free jazz and improvisation of the 70’s. Be it the trio tracks, the duo of Graves and Glover, or Graves soloing on the drums, this is music of transcendence and magic, a journey from the coast of West Africa to the East Coast of U.S.A. and back. It must be heard, everywhere.

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